Understanding Principal Reduction: What It Is And How It Helps Homeowners
Andrew Dehan4-minute read
February 23, 2023
Many homeowners experience hardship and run into scenarios where they cannot afford their mortgage. Principal reductions were an option for homeowners who had negative equity (owing more on your home than what it’s worth).
Here we’ll define principal reduction and cover its history. Since principal reduction programs have ended, we’ll cover alternatives if you’re experiencing negative equity or having a hard time paying your mortgage.
Let’s get started.
What Was Principal Reduction?
Provided to homeowners with underwater mortgages (another term for negative equity) in the wake of the subprime mortgage crisis, principal reductions lessened the principal balance a borrower owed on their mortgage. Principal reductions were designed to help both the borrower and lender avoid the foreclosure process.
A principal reduction was an alternative to foreclosing on a home. No one benefits from a foreclosure. With the large influx of people defaulting on their loans following 2009, programs were introduced to reduce the principal owed to keep homes out of foreclosure.
See What You Qualify For
Congratulations! Based on the information you have provided, you are eligible to continue your home loan process online with Rocket Mortgage.
If a sign-in page does not automatically pop up in a new tab, click here
Principal Reductions And The Subprime Mortgage Crisis
Principal reductions came out of the 2008-2009 financial crisis caused largely by the housing bubble of subprime mortgages. These mortgages were called “subprime” because they were given to borrowers with low credit scores. It resulted in many people getting in over their heads on homes they couldn’t afford.
As people started to default on their mortgages, the growing real estate bubble burst. Housing prices plummeted, which left many people with negative equity. In response, the U.S. government created a program called the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) as well as other principal reduction programs.
Today's Purchase Rates
Rate / APR
Pricing is currently not available for the selected value.
- Listed rates are offered exclusively through Rocket Mortgage.
- Mortgage rates could change daily.
- Actual payments will vary based on your individual situation and current rates.
- Some products may not be available in all states.
- Some jumbo products may not be available to first time home buyers.
- Lending services may not be available in all areas.
- Some restrictions may apply.
- Based on the purchase/refinance of a primary residence with no cash out at closing.
- We assumed (unless otherwise noted) that: closing costs are paid out of pocket; this is your primary residence and is a single family home; debt-to-income ratio is less than 30%; and credit score is over 720; or in the case of certain Jumbo products we assume a credit score over 740; and an escrow account for the payment of taxes and insurance.
- The lock period for your rate is 45 days.
- If LTV > 80%, PMI will be added to your monthy mortgage payment, with the exception of Military/VA loans. Military/VA loans do not require PMI.
- Please remember that we don’t have all your information. Therefore, the rate and payment results you see from this calculator may not reflect your actual situation. Rocket Mortgage offers a wide variety of loan options. You may still qualify for a loan even in your situation doesn’t match our assumptions. To get more accurate and personalized results, please call to talk to one of our mortgage experts.
Principal Reduction Programs
Let’s review the principal reduction programs that helped homeowners facing problems with paying their mortgage. These programs were started in the wake of the housing market crash and have since expired.
Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP)
HAMP was a federal loan modification program announced after the subprime mortgage crisis in 2008 as part of the U.S. government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac joined on to implement HAMP in the second quarter of 2009.
A few of the requirements to qualify for HAMP were:
- Mortgages needed to have an unpaid balance of less than $729,750.
- Property could not be condemned or uninhabitable.
- Debt-to-income ratio (DTI) must meet standards showing financial hardship.
HAMP ended in 2016.
Hardest Hit Fund (HHF)
The U.S. Treasury created HHF in 2010. It was established to provide aid to the states most affected by the subprime mortgage crisis. The HHF was available to 18 states and the District of Columbia.
Many of the states used this fund to create their own programs, like Keep Your Home California and Step Forward Michigan. Each state had their own requirements for eligibility, with a common shared requirement being that the home be the primary residence in the state the program was located.
In 2016, when HAMP ended, congress increased funding to HHF, making it available through 2020.
Principal Reduction Modification
The Principal Reduction Modification program was a one-time program announced by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) in 2016. To qualify, borrowers had to be at least 90 days delinquent and have an unpaid principal of $250,000 or less, among other eligibility criteria.
The program was only offered to borrowers with a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac loans. It ended in October 2016.
Mortgage Principal Reduction Eligibility
While principal reduction programs are no longer available, general mortgage payment assistance may be. Generally, to be eligible, your property needs to be distressed, or in danger of foreclosure.
Most of these programs have limits on the amount of principal you can owe and require the property to be your primary residence. If a principal reduction is an option, you need to be able to prove you’ll be able to afford your mortgage payments with the principal reduction.
Following the ending of HAMP and the principal reduction modification in 2016 as well as the HHF in 2020, opportunities for principal reduction are rarer. So, let’s go over some alternatives.
Alternative Solutions For Homeowners With Negative Equity
If you’re struggling with negative equity and are ineligible or can’t find a principal reduction program, here are some other options:
- Build up equity. If you’re gainfully employed but are underwater in your mortgage because of a drop in the housing market, staying in your home and building equity through regular payments is an option. If you can wait for the market to recover, your negative equity could be fixed.
- Refinance for a lower monthly payment. A rate and term home loan refinance could help you reduce your monthly payment. If you can refinance to a lower rate, this could save you money on a monthly basis and over the life of the loan.
- Seek out a loan modification. A loan modification is a change to your original terms and structure of your mortgage. While a loan modification may seem like a refinance, the differences are that you have to apply for a loan modification with your lender, you don’t pay for it and it could negatively affect your credit score.
- Loan forbearance. If you’re having trouble paying your mortgage, you may be eligible for loan forbearance from your lender. Loan forbearance puts a temporary pause on payments due to you facing a short-term hardship. Contact your lender to see if you qualify.
The Bottom Line
Principal reduction was a tool used to help homeowners who were underwater in their mortgage and had a hard time making payments as a result of the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis. The two major federal programs, HAMP and the HHF, have since ended.
While these programs have ended, there are still plenty of options for homeowners who have negative equity or are having trouble paying their mortgage. If you’re struggling to pay your mortgage on time, research strategies to make your mortgage payments easier.
Get approved to refinance.
See expert-recommended refinance options and customize them to fit your budget.
Viewing 1 - 3 of 3
The Hidden Costs Of Late Mortgage Payments
Servicing - 5-minute read
Kevin Graham - February 27, 2023
A late mortgage payment is money you owe a lender for a missed payment. Learn the costs associated with making a late mortgage payment and its effect on credit.
The Difference Between Forbearance And Foreclosure
Mortgage Basics - 7-minute read
Victoria Araj - January 11, 2023
The words may sound the same, but there’s a difference between forbearance and foreclosure. Here’s what you need to know.